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Abu Dhabi: A Glittering Transformation

In July 2016, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) reported receiving 2.26 million passenger traffic, a big leap – by 7.9 percent – from the same month the year prior. Indians alone made up about 1.76 million of those passengers. The airport says, that of all the nationalities it receives, Indians, Pakistanis, Qataris, British, and Saudi Arabians (in this order) form the largest traffic into Abu Dhabi.

“Passenger numbers have increased at double digit rates every year,” the airport’s website reads. AUH further expects its passenger traffic to cross 2.7 million next year. And to accommodate this number, construction of the new Midfield Terminal Building is scheduled to be completed by December 2017.

AUH says: “The MTB will become the primary gateway for passengers traveling through Abu Dhabi, and the future home of Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the UAE.”

Through its expansion, AUH looks to encourage Abu Dhabi’s economic growth by providing easy international connectivity, making the emirate easily accessible to the world. The airport’s foresight is in tandem with Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030. The project, initiated by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, is vital in growing the emirate’s wealth.

Under his visionary leadership, the Urban Planning Council, enthusiastically supports this expansion through “associated land uses, to ensure the development of professionally designed, sustainable and well-managed urban environments, which incorporate world-class transport and infrastructure systems and support the implementation of Economic Vision 2030 and Environment Vision 2030.”

On its website (, the council defines the five basic steps taken to cultivate Vision 2030:

• Creating a sustainable emirate that protects resources for current and future generations.

• Supporting and enabling economic diversification and growth.

• Raising the standard of living across the emirate.

• Protecting, enhancing and promoting Arab and Emirati culture and traditions.

• Embracing contemporary living and respecting the diverse cultures of those residing in Abu Dhabi.

In the Zone

Al Maryah Island is one such project that has been in development since 2007. As of October 2015, the island has been designated as a Financial Free Zone, a first for Abu Dhabi. The goal is to help diversify the emirate’s economy for future growth and sustainability away from its dependence on its hydrocarbon sector, which currently contributes 55 percent to Abu Dhabi’s GDP.

Free zones in the UAE are attractive to foreign investors because they work as independent governing bodies, different from the legal framework of the city in which they are located. Exemptions from taxes, duties and foreign ownership restrictions are the biggest benefits of investing in such zones. In case of Abu Dhabi’s Free Zone, companies can be 100 percent foreign-owned and are exempt from taxes for 50 years.

All 281 acres of this reclaimed land are being developed by Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure, in partnership with local and foreign companies to promote Abu Dhabi’s retail, health care, hospitality and finance sectors. Apart from office towers, the island is also creating a lifestyle space with parks, malls, hotels, shops, restaurants, cafes and a hospital too.

“On Al Maryah Island we have brought to life a visionary concept for a mixed-use neighborhood which is integrated with the existing urban framework and also meets the demands of businesses and consumers alike,” says Ali Eid AlMheiri, executive director of Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure. “As the master developer of Al Maryah Island, we are pleased to offer third party developers the opportunity to invest in this prime area of Abu Dhabi which benefits from the existing first class infrastructure and the successfully completed real estate developments.”

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is one of the major developments on the island, a partnership between Mubadala and US-based Cleveland Clinic. The 364-bed, state-of-the-art facility has been operating since March 2015. From the hospital, a bridge offers access to The Galleria – Abu Dhabi’s luxury mall that is also home to Four Seasons and Rosewood, luxury business hotels.

Gulf Related, a real estate company is developing another mall on the island, Al Maryah Central, which is expected to open in 2018. It will include over 500 retail stores, 100 food options, 20 cinema screens and five urban parks. Developers say it promises to be Abu Dhabi’s “next generation mall.”

Office towers on Al Maryah Island are Al Sila, Al Sarab, Al Maqam and Al Khatem. They are home to over 40 global blue chip companies. In addition, the Al Hilal Bank tower houses commercial space and Farglory’s Maryah Plaza offers residential units designed by celebrated British architect Sir Richard Rogers.

Together, the malls, hotels, hospital and commercial and residential towers form Abu Dhabi Global Marketplace. The successful launch of the environmentally-friendly ADGM marks the first project in the UAE to achieve LEED Core and Shell (LEED-CS) Gold pre-certification by the US Green Building Council.

In addition, ADGM has gone a step further to augment the importance of Abu Dhabi as a business hub. ADGM and the emirate’s stock market, the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), are working on the feasibility of setting up a new financial exchange on Al Maryah Island, signing a memorandum of understanding to “foster bilateral cooperation.”

In an interview with the UAE newspaper The National, Ahmed Al Sayegh, the chairman of ADGM said, “We will explore and develop a wider range of financial products and service offerings that can be available to, and traded by, both local and global market participants and investors in ADGM.”

According to Hamad Abdullah Al Shamsi, the chairman of ADX, the partnership will help achieve Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 bringing economic diversification by taking the load off the emirate’s oil sectors and focusing on other revenue generating streams.  

Plenty to See & Do

While Abu Dhabi shows a promising future in health care, hospitality, finance and other such non-oil related sectors, its leisure tourism has also been on a steady rise with the city’s transformation from an underdeveloped desert area to a glossy city, a process which began after the discovery of oil in the late 1950s.

About 90 percent of UAE’s oil reserves are in Abu Dhabi, providing a steady flow of revenue. In turn, this fueled further development and in the bargain, increased the number of guests it attracts – not just visitors, but foreign investors as well.

Work on the much-anticipated second Louvre in Abu Dhabi is reportedly “95 percent complete” and the opening is expected to be announced soon. Louvre Abu Dhabi, like its Paris counterpart, will showcase art, manuscripts, sculptures, antiques, cultural pieces and other artifacts. The display will have a global flavor, with influences from cultures and societies worldwide.

An interesting fact about the Louvre of the Middle East is that its water system is inspired by ancient Arabian engineering methods and will function much like it did in historic times – effectively. “Museum City,” the theme of Louvre Abu Dhabi, is inspired by Arabic towns and “low- lying Arab settlements.” It is made up of a cluster of about 55 buildings.

Yas Island on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is an entertainment zone with a shopping center, beach, water park, golf course, yachting facilities and the exciting Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the annual F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. When the official races aren’t on, Yas Racing allows you to book a “track experience” that includes a quick tutorial and escorted drives.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the world’s largest indoor theme park with the world’s steepest roller coaster at a 51-degree incline. This is in addition to a host of other attractions at the park: a simulator that takes you over Italian landscape, and another one that takes you on a ride with a virtual F1 professional, shows, museum, Ferrari car showroom, and more.

Al Wathba Camel Race Track, 28 miles east of Abu Dhabi is built specially for camels to race and entertain spectators. Energy at the tracks is contagious and the experience is something to take home. Watching the camels gallop at that speed isn’t an everyday occurrence. Races take place on weekends and on public holidays.

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the world’s largest hospital for these birds of prey, offers insight into everything there is to know about the bird. It starts with a brief history of falconry, use of falcons in modern times and ends with the opportunity to handle one of these magnificent birds yourself.

By Neha Gupta Kapoor